Recently some of the environmental news has be regarding the delisting of the Gray Wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Hence you can see, I post a picture of a wolf from Denali National Park. As you can see from the image, the wolf was collared by the Park Service biologists, to track and record her movements and to help them learn more about wolves. She’s dead now, apparently killed by wolves in another pack last winter, wandering onto some turf that didn’t belong to her. Such seems to be the way with wolves.
Anyway, onto the Yellowstone Wolf scenario. The wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone Park, and to Idaho, in the mid-90s, in an effort to bring back some semblance of balance to the natural ecosystems of the region. Well, so the story was told, anyway. Reality is, the reintroduction was really just a con-job, a veiled way of granting continued logging and mining rights to those in power in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). By reintroducing the wolves to the region, the wolves would not be granted “endangered” classification, but were instead listed as an ‘experimental population’, and not give protections afforded under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). That means timber sales and mining leases for the National Forest Service were allowed to go ahead. If the wolves had returned to the region naturally, i.e., on their own, as was happening anyway as wolves moved south from Canada, the population would’ve been granted protection, and their critical habitat would’ve been included. As it was, the logging, et al, went ahead, and the wolves of Yellowstone enjoyed a little protection in the park.
Outside the park, they didn’t get it quite so easy. However, being successful predators, the population did rebound, and they seem to be doing pretty well. So well, in fact, that they were officially delisted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (US F&WS), and their management returned to the state governments, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Those states presented their plans to the federal govt., and, after a deal of haggling, the announcement was made that the wolves wouldn’t be under federal management, but state management from now on. Unless, of course, the wolves don’t remain above a ‘sustainable population’. That population is listed as 10 breeding pairs in each state, which means an overall average population of around 100-150 wolves. If the numbers go below that, the management is returned to the federal govt.
So that’s the history. My problem with all this is the idea of ‘sustainable wildlife management’. Why settle for ‘sustainable’? Isn’t that the ecological equivalent of minimum wage? Why would we want a biotic community that is merely ‘sustainable’? It’s a cold word, it fails to capture any of the beauty, the mystery and the joy of the natural world. I think we lose a lot when we define things this way. Why not a ‘flourishing, bountiful wildlife management program’? I don’t want ‘sustainable’ any more than I want to ‘scrape by’. When I set out to learn to play guitar, I didn’t want to settle for a passing grade. I wanted to do well, and then do do better (turns out I should’ve settled for a Cminus). I don’t want a natural world around me that’s ‘sustainable’.
Secondly, I don’t want ‘wildlife management’ period. It’s interesting to me how so often the folks who advocate ‘wildlife management’ in situations like this (usually conservative, politically right-wing folks – a generalization, I know) are also advocates of a free market, unregulated economy. Well, it seems to me that if a free market economy is best, then a free natural economy ought equally, if not more so, be the best choice. Why pursue regulated natural ecosystems and unregulated market economies? If anything, a free natural economy is at least somewhat feasible, far more so than a free market economy ever will be, simply because we know a natural economy, by definition, can exist without us to mold it along the way. A market economy, by definition, requires human intervention.
So give us a free natural market. In those wild places that remain, give us an unregulated biotic community, allow the ecosystems to show US how they might best flourish and grow. I guarantee they’ll surprise us. And in the meantime, take those damned collars off the animals.